A Radio Debut: Three Fish, Three Sounds

MELISSA BLOCK, host: We’re going under water for today’s installment of our SoundClips Series. This one was sent to us from a woman in the Fisheries Department at Auburn University in Alabama.

Ms. CAROL JOHNSTON: I’m Carol Johnston and I listen to the secret lives of fishes.

(Soundbite of fish acoustics)

Ms. JOHNSTON: They’re secret because for most of the species I work for, sound production has not been documented. We didn’t know anything it before, and in order to hear these sounds, you need special equipment and you have to do it in the right time of the year, which for most of the species I work with is during the breeding season.

I became interested in fish acoustics as part of my research on spawning behavior of fishes. Fishes have exceptional hearing, much better than ours. And water’s the perfect medium for communication using sound. Fishes I’ve worked with are primarily minnows, which is the largest family of fishes in the world, and darters, which are another very large family. The darters are restricted to eastern North America.

(Soundbite of fish mating call)

Ms. JOHNSON: This sound was a male trying to attract a female to come over and spawn with him. It’s an amazing sound. This fish is only about three inches long.

(Soundbite of fish mating call)

Ms. JOHNSON: Another group I work with are minnows. This is a male, again, trying to attract a mate. And this is another very small fish. It’s only about three and a half inches long.

(Soundbite of fish acoustics)

Ms. JOHNSON: The males also use these sounds for aggressive interactions. So when they’re trying to compete for nest sites, they’ll – instead of just all out fighting, they’ll produce these sounds as a method or sort of assessing or checking each other out.

(Soundbite of fish acoustics)

Ms. JOHNSON: And finally, another group I work with are sturgeons. And I was actually asked to look and see if sturgeons produce sounds in the hopes that we will be to use these sounds during the breeding season to locate the fish in the wild. Almost all species of sturgeons are imperiled.
(Soundbite of fish acoustics)

BLOCK: Carol Johnston along with minnows, sturgeons, and darters at the Auburn University Fisheries Department. We’d like you to take part in our SoundClips project. The first step is to go to our Web site, NPR.org. Search for SoundClips to find step two.

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